After Catholic outcry, Satanist ceremony canceled at Harvard

They won't be hailing Satan at Harvard after all.

A plan by a student group to hold a Satanist ritual at the Ivy League university on Monday night was canceled after organizers couldn't find a space to host their "black mass," the student organizers said.

"Given that no other location has been willing to intercede, we will no longer be sponsoring this Black Mass," the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club said in an unsigned email to the Los Angeles Times.

The controversy had drawn national attention in recent days after the Archdiocese of Boston and Harvard's own president, among other campus leaders, condemned the club's plan to hold the ceremony as part of a series of events intended to explore other cultures.

The New York-based Satanic Temple -- a self-described humanist group that, according to a spokesman, doesn't actually believe in the devil but uses Satan as a symbol of protest against superstition and organized religion -- was supposed to help hold the ceremony.

Instead, the Satanists decided to carry out the ceremony out in private at an undisclosed location Monday evening after organizers canceled, the student group said.

The Satanic Temple's spokesman couldn't be immediately reached for comment after news of the cancellation Monday evening.

Lucien Greaves, in an interview earlier Monday with The Times, had said the Catholic opposition to the ceremony was disingenuous and offensive since the ceremony was not intended to insult the Church.

"It’s like white people getting mad when black poets and hip-hop artists use" the N-word, Greaves said. "That's how offensive the Catholic Church's reaction is to me."

The Archdiocese of Boston had previously announced an hour of prayer Monday evening for participants in the black mass. "This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil," the archdiocese said in a statement.

Harvard President Drew Faust, for her part, had called it "deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory," adding that she would attend a religious ceremony Monday evening to support campus Catholics.

Despite campus leaders urging the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club not to hold the event, no officials had actually sought to intervene. Indeed, the student group said hundreds of people had expressed interest in attending the ceremony despite some "intimidating messages."

Nonetheless, the club said of the Satanic Temple on Monday evening that it was "profoundly disturbing to see an entity erroneously labeled as a hate group because people do not share their faith or take the time to understand their beliefs or the meanings behind their rituals."

The Satanist group had previously celebrated same-sex unions at the grave belonging to the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps and has asked for a monument to Satan on Oklahoma Capitol grounds.

Monday's ceremony was first expected to be held at the Cambridge Queen's Head Pub and involve a ceremony resembling the Eucharistic Prayer, the most solemn part of the Roman Catholic Mass in which Catholics believe that bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

"It's a declaration of personal independence for the people engaged in it," the Temple's spokesman Greaves had said of the ceremony. "The Catholic Church is irrelevant to us. We don’t feel like we're in direct conflict with them, because they don't have meaning in our lives.

"We plan to talk about historical academic context," Greaves added, criticizing religious officials' "ridiculous, infantile fears that we're actually going to summon the devil, or their great fears that we're going to profane their magical bread. We're not using a consecrated host or anything like that."

One local reporter tweeted that Catholics had started a march through Cambridge on Monday evening to protest the Satanist event.